Oct 27, 2023
Photo Credit: Celestine Ndinda
The turbulent journey that shaped my journey in mental health advocacy
As we draw to the close of world mental health month, I can't help but reminisce about my journey as a mental health advocate. The month has been eventful and I am grateful that I have been able to create impact in my own small way.
If someone ever told me that one day I will be a candidate for a mental illness, I would tell them to their face that they are lying. Well, mental illness doesn't send out invites to anyone, you just find yourself with a VIP membership card that gives you access to this life party. It has been 8 years of dining with this supposed companion called 'bipolar mood disorder.' A journey that has so many lessons, very unpredictable since I barely know where the drop-off point shall be.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that's characterized by an elevated mood better known as mania or periods of sadness, withdrawal known as depression. My journey with this condition started in 2010 when i was diagnosed with postpartum depression. This was a period of anxiety, sadness and emptiness, due to a distressed delivery and loss of a child. Through spiritual intervention and therapy I was able to get better, however life took a different turn, an year later when what I was going through revealed another part of me that surprised many.
Well, Christine, the church girl turned into a party girl for no apparent season, something I came to learn later was mania which is a bipolar symptom. From partying to dressing inappropriately and engaging in risky behavior. The consequences were far-reaching since I even dropped out of school for 4 years just figuring out what had become of me. The elevated mood oscillated with periods of depression and this was the most difficult time for my family. It did not end here, the climax of it all was in 2015, when I got psychotic and lost touch with reality. A trip to the general practitioner saw me destroy stuff at the hospital, it was at this moment that I was referred to a psychiatric facility, and diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder.
For sure it was a period of uncertainty, denial and disappointment as i just couldn't believe I will ever suffer from a me talk condition. From a bubbly girl full of life, to a dull, drooling girl with suicidal ideations at 25 years, my life was crumbling right before my eyes. It's a medical review that saved my life and spurred me on a learning trajectory to get to know what's this that has been ailing me for this while. I wouldn't lie to you that I accepted this condition at once. It took me 4 years to accept that medication, therapy and psychiatric visits will be a part of me.
The year 2019 was my turning point, I accepted my diagnosis and I embarked on a self-awareness journey to understand myself and this disorder that has shown me all different colors. Well, for the 8 years in campus, getting a job was an uphill task, I gave up on the job search and in 2016 I embraced the idea of setting up my own organization. The journey began in August 2016 after a frustrating period of futile job search. In October 2016 that's when I gained the courage to share my story with the world after being a speaker at an event dubbed 'Art and disability', I gave a talk on how art can be used for social change. I wept from begining to end as I became vulnerable and shared my story with the world.
It was at this point that I let out all that pain and decided that I will use what I have to impact change in society. This event opened up my mind to the immense possibilities in this life, I started attending events and sharing my aspirations with people who cared to listen. It has been 7 years of pure advocacy, learning on the job. The 7 years of self-advocacy culminated in registering a community based organization called 'Stand Out 4 Mental Health'. I wouldn't lie to you, it hasn't been an easy journey advocating for mental health rights. It has been a period of learning, unlearning and relearning all that pertains to mental health. My highlight was initiating art for mental wellness sessions with my learners this year, besides that I have been doing active advocacy on social media for the longest time. I have also been conducting mentorship sessions for children and youth for the longest time.
The decision to turn my pain to purpose was born out of the desire to be the voice for many afflicted by mental illness. I wouldn't say my mental health advocacy journey has been all rosy, it has its fair share of challenges but I am grateful that my resolve to leave the world better than I found it is what keeps me going. At the moment I am open for partnerships and collaborations through Stand Out 4 Mental Health.
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"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." ~
© Christine Ombima